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Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 3 June 2008

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Blaker and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent contacts they have had with members of the Southern African Development Community regarding the situation in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I are in regular contact with SADC leaders and Foreign Ministers to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe. Our embassies and high commissions in the region take every opportunity to remind them of our concerns and emphasise the key role they have in resolving the situation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The outrageous spectacle of Mugabe’s presence at the FAO summit in Rome has been condemned from many quarters. Has there been any condemnation from African Governments? Recently, President Mbeki wrote to President Bush asking him to “butt out” of Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Mbeki used his vote at the UN Security Council to block discussion of the crisis in Zimbabwe. Is it not time he was reminded forcefully that the US and the UK between them have to feed over half the population of Zimbabwe to save them from starvation as a result of Mugabe’s evil policies? Does the Minister agree with Morgan Tsvangirai that President Mbeki’s lack of neutrality makes him unfit to lead the SADC process on Zimbabwe? Given HMG’s patient support for regional action on the crisis and our strong bilateral links with SADC countries, what response has there been to the Prime Minister’s call for election monitors from the Caribbean, Canada and other countries? Is it not time for SADC to insist that trade union delegations from the region be allowed to enter Zimbabwe? Finally, if China can be open to the world in its crisis, why not Zimbabwe?

My Lords, I am not sure that President Mbeki needs any reminding that we are meeting the food needs of half the Zimbabweans because there are 3 million Zimbabweans in exile in his country. The desperate and tragic violence in recent months reflects the cost to South Africa of failing to resolve this crisis. The internal debate in South Africa around that issue shows that many South Africans share the view not just of this Government but of SADC neighbours that it is time for an honest, fair election and for its result to be recognised by President Mugabe.

My Lords, given the current levels of intimidation, torture and displacement in Zimbabwe, can the Minister say what the UK Government’s attitude as part of the international community will be if President Mugabe is re-elected as president?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct that the omens are not good. The NGOs authoritatively report that since the second round began 30,000 people have been displaced, 1,700 have been beaten and 27 have been murdered. It would seem that all that is a targeted effort by the Government to undermine the human infrastructure of the MDC opposition. We have been clear that for this election to be recognised by the world it must meet SADC, AU and international principles of freeness and fairness. Frankly, it is not off to a good start.

My Lords, we do not know when fundamental change—the end of the Mugabe regime—will come in Zimbabwe, but come it will. Is my noble friend confident that DfID, the European Union, the United States and the international community generally are prepared for that, when it comes, and that we will have a package of immediate aid to help the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has committed to a major contribution by Britain, through a multilateral effort, probably led by the World Bank and the UN, for the reconstruction of the country. DfID has taken the lead in encouraging the World Bank to set up a multidonor trust fund and to begin planning for that moment when Zimbabwe returns to accountable government and starts to put back in place a functioning economy.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister has seen the statement by President Bush calling on the AU, the UN and SADC to blanket the country with elections and human rights monitors. In view of the fact that it is unlikely that the regime will allow more than the bare minimum of something like 300, which has already been agreed, to enter the country, would he consider suggesting to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the High Commissioner for Human Rights that they jointly appoint a special representative to receive testimony via SMS and voice messages about the violations occurring now, so that retribution can be visited on the criminals perpetrating those atrocities after the elections have brought another party to power?

My Lords, we have certainly made it clear to the UN Secretary-General and in the Security Council that a UN human rights envoy is badly needed in Zimbabwe. An earlier envoy was able to stay the violence over slum closures several years ago. We also continue to press for the maximum number of observers necessary, which is estimated as between 400 and 600. We are supporting a trust fund at the UN to finance observers. We are working with SADC and AU leaders to make sure that they are able to provide sufficient observers, and we are continuing to press for Caribbean and Latin American observers to make sure that there are witnesses to what happens in coming weeks in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, would the Minister give his support to the call by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for the United Nations to investigate the sustained campaign against the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, I certainly would. I observe that the attack on the Anglican Church clearly represents the effort to close down any free, fair and objective voices in the country in advance of the second round of elections.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that Zimbabwe is effectively being run by the military, more specifically Emmerson Mnangagwa, the ministry of police and the intelligence agencies, particularly Mr Chihuri, and therefore the forthcoming rerun is going to be a complete farce? Will the Minister elaborate on what discussions there have been with the African Union with respect to those on the sanctions list? What actions are Her Majesty's Government taking to prevent their children being educated here in Britain?

My Lords, I have heard the same reports as the noble Lord about the increased influence of the individuals that he names and, indeed, of others. We are tracking the situation. President Mugabe exhibits every sign of still being in charge, but it is enormously important that he—or whoever else is now running the country—runs free and fair elections. If that does not occur, not just Britain but all of us will want to revisit the range of sanctions in force against that country.